Author(s): Lesourd B, Mazari L
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Abstract Immune function declines with age, leading to increased infection and cancer rates in aged individuals. In fact, recent progress in the study of immune ageing has introduced the idea that rather than a general decline in the functions of the immune system with age, immune ageing is mainly characterized by a progressive appearance of immune dysregulation throughout life. Changes appear earlier in life for cell-mediated immunity than for humoral immunity. Thus, age-related modifications in cell-mediated immunity, i.e. changes in naive : memory T-cells, mature : immature T-cells, T-helper 1 : T-helper 2 cells are more important in the elderly than changes in humoral immunity, i.e. CD5 : CD5+ cells or length of antibody responses. Such evolution of the immune system has been linked to declining thymus function and to accumulative antigenic influence over the lifespan. In contrast, innate immunity (macrophage functions) is preserved or even increased during the ageing process. This finding shows that the 'primitive' immune system is less affected by the ageing process than the sophisticated specific immune system. The present review focuses on innate and cell-mediated immune changes with ageing. It provides evidence that primary changes (intrinsic modifications in the immune system) and secondary changes (resulting from environmental influences during the lifespan) exert different influences on the immune system. Primary changes, occurring in healthy individuals, seem less important nowadays than they were considered to be previously. For example, interleukin 2 secretion in some very healthy aged individuals is comparable with that in younger adults. Primary immune changes may not explain the increased incidence and severity of infections observed in the elderly population. Secondary immunological changes are far more frequent and are certainly responsible for most of the immune modifications observed in the elderly population. Environmental factors leading to secondary immune dysfunctions include not only antigenic influence, which is a reflection of diseases experienced over the lifespan, but also many other factors such as drug intake, physical activity and diet; factors for which important changes occur in the elderly population. Nutritional factors play a major role in the immune responses of aged individuals and the present review shows that nutritional influences on immune responses are of great consequence in aged individuals, even in the very healthy elderly.
This article was published in Proc Nutr Soc
and referenced in Vitamins & Minerals